From 411 Operator to Contact Center Geek: An Interview with Contact Center Operations Expert, Matt Beckwith

Today, we have with us, Matt Beckwith, a proud “Contact Center Geek” with over 25 years in contact center industry. His passion for CX technology and leadership has led to his current role as the Director of Customer Experience for Clark Pest Control. One of the most successful pest management companies in the US. He has been named a top thought leader in the contact center space and serves on the steering committee for the Northern California Contact Center Association.

Listen to the full podcast recording here:

Welcome to The Pod, Matt. Do I have your permission to record this call for quality assurance?

Yeah. Bringing you back to my old QA days, but absolutely. Thank you, Hailey, appreciate it.

Great. Well, we’ll jump right in. Can you give our readers and listeners some insight into your background, where you started, and how you got to where you are today?

Yeah, sure. I will say this, and most people don’t believe me when I say this, but this is the honest truth, when I was a young, young teenager my mother helped me open up my first bank account. And then when I had a problem with my first statement, she said, “Call the bank.” I called the bank, and I was fascinated with this person that I called an operator, or my mother called an operator. That you called them, they helped you, and you were done. And at maybe 13 or so years old, I said I wanted to do that. I wanted to be the operator. And I had forgotten about that until many, many years later as an adult, when I went to get my first, what I called, real job outside of working in a restaurant.

I had an interview with a pencil factory. I was late to the interview. They said they couldn’t interview me because the production line on the factory required, obviously, punctuality, so they sent me away. I went home with my tail between my legs. Here I was with a brand new baby at home. I needed a job, and I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life not working in a pencil factory. And then I got the opportunity to apply for a job at the phone company, that’s what we used to call it. And I shortly thereafter became a 4-1-1 operator, directory assistance. And that was about 28 years ago. And I have worked in the contact center space ever since in telecommunications and banking, even healthcare before I landed in the fun, fun world of pest control and home services.

That’s amazing. You’ve done it all. You’ve come from the contact center floor all the way now to where you are as the director of customer experience at Clark Pest Control. Can you share a little bit more about your day-to-day role and responsibilities, and what you are doing currently?

Yeah, sure. I joined Clark just about eight years ago, heading up their contact center operations. They had done a good job as they were growing through the years of putting one together and really promoting folks from within, which is great, but they realized that they needed somebody with some external knowledge. And I joined, happy to do so, because it meant I no longer had to commute an hour or two into the Bay area and started taking over the contact center operations. And today, I oversee all of our customer support and inside sales, so all of our contact center operations, as well as the very beginning of the pandemic, we launched an inside sales inbound contact center that had incredible success over the last 18, 20 months or so. And then in addition to that, my team’s also responsible for the administration of our voice of customer programs and all of our customer experience projects across the organization.

That’s amazing. You have a really wide group of teams that you oversee, which gives you a really good insight and leads me to my next question. As someone who sees a lot of CX software and technologies come across their desk, what are the key characteristics that you look for when you’re choosing software, and in particular, when choosing software that’s going to help your agents do their job and deliver the best customer service possible?

Yeah. Well, I’m glad you emphasized “for our team members” because that’s actually the really big deal for us and our team. But, I will say even before that, I learned something in my banking days that I never want to be on the bleeding edge of technology. I don’t even want to be on the leading edge of technology. I would like somebody to have gone before me and tested and tried things. One of the very first things that I look at is what’s a company’s track record for actual deploying. I have deployed with a couple of startups, but they’re low-risk applications. But, normally it’s let’s get beyond the referenceable accounts. I’ve been a reference account for a number of organizations, but I can go beyond the reference accounts.

I want to see this technology actually being used in the wild from real customers that aren’t just an organization’s references. But then beyond that, just as you said, it’s what is that technology bringing to the team member because as long as I’ve been in this business, even when I was in a bank call center supporting retail banks, the big push was we’re going to introduce smarter ATMs and these smarter ATMs are going to get rid of the need for tellers. And then we realized, no, we actually need tellers and we need more tellers. And people hate getting pushed out to the ATM outside.

And the same thing applies today in contact center technology, is if you’re coming, certainly at me, with a new technology that’s going to separate us or our brand from our customers, that’s not a big win for us. What is a big win is help make our employees, if that’s employees in the field or employees in the contact centers, better access to information or information about the customer, what they should do next, so those employee-facing technologies are really the ones that I think are starting to lead the pack.

Yeah. I think that’s something that we really focus on here on this podcast is that it’s not necessary adding more technology to the desktop of your agent; it’s adding the right technology and also a process, a strong process, that goes along with that technology and the implementation of that technology.

Yeah. And you’re right because it’s not about more. And I remember this, and I look for these little proxies that I could go back 20 years of remembering what things looked like or sounded like. And there’s one proxy I haven’t thought about until you just said that, but it’s been a long time since I thought about this, but it used to be that organizations would say, “You come to work for us, and you’re going to have the greatest setup. You’re going to have two big monitors.” When I see people say that they have or need two monitors, that’s actually a bad sign. That means you probably have too much technology that you’ve put in front of them. And look, our teams have two monitors. Some of them have one big monitor, but most of that’s preference. But, yeah, it’s the decades of throwing more technology in front of them has not helped necessarily.

Yeah. And I think for agent retention, the toggling between screens can just be overwhelming. I think we’re on the same page with that. When we’re talking about CX technology, what do you think are the main pain points we’ve seen in regarding to this contact center technology that we add on to our agent desktop, and is the technology even what we should be focusing on? Or, should we be focusing more on process or agent satisfaction? What are the things that we should be looking at?

Yeah. I would say yes to all. We need to be looking at all. We always need to be looking at new technology and seeing what’s out there and solution providers help do that. Left to our own devices, the folks like me that are running contact centers, we wouldn’t go out there and build new products, right? We need these to be brought to market. We need them to be brand new. We need to be … Somebody needs to be at the bleeding edge. But, if I were to diagnose what I’ve seen over the last several years, certainly the first is the overuse of just the CX. Every company out there that sells a technology to the space is slapping CX on a product. And not only that but there are contact centers that are doing it and I think in great disservice to their role, calling their contact centers customer experience centers.

Well, if customer experience is everything that the customer perceives about your brand and every interaction, and Brad Cleveland talks a lot about this in his latest book, but everything that touches that customer from your brand doesn’t matter where in the timeline, then why would we call one department the customer experience department, everything should be. Solution providers do it and contact centers are doing it. And I think contact centers doing it because of the pressure from their senior executives that say, “Oh, wait, we don’t care about service anymore. We care about experience.” No, we care about all of it, but I think the disservice is we’re trying to put too much into one thing.

And certainly, with technology, I take a lot of sales calls. There’s a bunch that I don’t take, but I take a fair number of sales calls. And anytime somebody talks about they’re going to improve our customer experience, I always say if I can’t make an instant connection between what their product does and actually the experience that my actual human being customer goes through, then they’re just using it as a label. And I think we’ve done that as a disservice. We’ve muddied or clouded the water as it relates to that term.

Yeah. I think it’s like those hot topic words, those ping words that we hear that, really, we just slap them on things to be keeping up with the status quo, but are we really addressing the issues at hand within our contact center? I love that you touched on that. We talked a little bit about this on a previous call, and I want to talk about it today, what are your thoughts on omnichannel functions? Are they all great and should they all be utilized? And how do you make the decision of what channels are best? And specifically, what’s the advice to people who are trying to make decisions on what channels are best for their organizations?

Yeah. And this is something I seem to go on rants about pretty often. And I sound like a Luddite. I sound like the oldest person in the room that doesn’t believe in technology, but that’s not true, but voice is not dead. There’s still is a great need. And I’m recognizing I’m saying this from a pest control company that relies a lot on our voice channel. We are fully omnichannel. We have nearly any way you can contact us, we have it available. But the flaw is voice often takes a much larger investment in technology but also in human resource investment. And companies tend to shy away from that. And I think we’ve seen over the last several years especially, that companies are pushing a digital-first strategy and then saying, “Oh, the customers demanded digital-first,” or, “Customers demand self-service,” which it’s not necessarily true.

And I’m not purporting to have all of the data for the entire country or the continent and certainly the world, but there are customers that still want to pick up the phone. And if we say we’re not going to focus on voice because customers don’t want to be there, do they not want to be there because they don’t want to be there or do they not want to be there because you’ve given them a terrible solution for the last 10 or 20 years? Why would you call? And everybody likes to pick on the cable company. Wherever you live, in the United States anyway, everybody says, everywhere I go, if I ask people to give me an example of terrible customer service, they all say their cable company. And I know people that work at Charter, at Comcast, and these are good people and good organizations that have a bad … they had a structural problem and some of them are fixing them, but still, nobody wants to call their cable company or their cell phone provider.

Those are awful experiences, but that’s because they made it that awful. And so if we’re going to say omnichannel, and if we’re going to talk about channel preferences, we should get those preferences from our customers. They shouldn’t be our preference. Now, you might have to price for it, and that’s a challenge, right? If you’re offering a service and you need to raise the price because you’re going to offer 24/7, which my contact center isn’t even 24/7, it’s pretty wide, but it’s not 24/7, but it’s about making the customer make that selection, not make the decision in the executive boardroom. And this just randomly came to mind because the other day I saw in Lincoln, there’s a video that’s circling around. It’s got a, I don’t know, a few or several hundred thousand views.

It’s of a school teacher standing at the door. And there’s a sign on the door that basically says, “Do you want a high five? Do you want a hug? Do you want a little dance-off? Or do you want an elbow bump?” And every student walks in and then they tap it. They’ll tap the heart, and they get a hug. They’ll tap the fist bump; they get a fist bump. And it just blew me away. And people in the customer experience space are all over this video. They’re like, “This is personalization. This is personalization.” I’m thinking, “This is omnichannel. This is omnichannel.” If you don’t ask your customers or give them the opportunity, you can’t say your omnichannel if it’s near impossible to get you over the phone, you’re not omnichannel. You’re forcing people down a path down a specific channel. And that’s the problem we get into. And I know it’s expensive to do all the channels, but don’t call yourself omnichannel if you’re not actually freely allowing people to choose on their own.

Yeah. I think we get in a rut, too, within our organization of making broad generalizations by generation saying, “Oh, well, millennials, they like to chat,” or, “Millennials are really pushing for self-service,” or even the generation after millennials, when we know, I know as a millennial, that I like to get on the phone with someone. Most of the time, that is my preferred method. Sometimes, I’ll go to chat, but usually, I will press that zero or whatever option is going to allow me to get to an agent. And I think that that’s something, just as you were saying, you have to give your customer the opportunity to make that decision. You can’t make that decision from the executive level, so I love that you mentioned that.

And I don’t want to hear anybody say that they have done a test and that their test says that customers prefer channel A over channel B because every test I’ve ever seen is biased. The only way to remove bias is if, and my dream and I get I’m an old contact centered guy, but my dream is every company offers a number that you can call and press zero and within whatever reasonable amount of time, 30 seconds, whatever it might be, somebody answers the phone and is equipped to help you. If you offered that, and consistently, then you could actually do a test to see does an individual customer, not the aggregate, does an individual customer prefer voice over digital over self-service, but nobody does that. They shove self-service in your face. That is not a test. Rant over.

No, great rant. I like that you said that because I think that was my follow-up question was how would we test that? How would we test that theory? How would we make the assumption or find a way to figure out what the channel is that people most prefer? You gave us that answer and thank you so much. We’re going to switch modes a little bit. I’d like to talk about the dreaded great resignation that we’re facing right now. I know you have a unique hiring and training process that aims towards lessening agent attrition. And you yourself haven’t experienced a great impact from the great resignation as we’re talking about it. Can you tell our listeners a bit about that process?

Yeah. And isn’t it wild that everybody … I mean, that was a term and I just lost the name of the person that coined the term, but in that first piece that was written about the great resignation, but then now everybody knows what that is. And that is a virtually trademarked thing. But, yeah, and for our team, even when we were in the office, we put a ton of energy into, of course, hiring the right people, knowing exactly what the best skills were, and creating a very formalized, pretty rigid program and process around hiring people and onboarding people. But, when we first went to work from home, on March 18th, 2020, was the day we went work from home, we said, “We can’t just port these things. We can’t just evenly take them and move them into this virtual environment because now we don’t work in a building. We work in a whole bunch of people’s homes: in their kitchens, in their spare bedrooms, in their family rooms.”

And it’s a completely different environment, so we had to be very purposeful when we tweaked the questions we asked. And the first group we hired fully remote was great, but we learned a lot about things we were missing. And we went back to the basics. One question that we ask that I’ve been asking for probably 15 years or so is always asking people is this the job we sold you on? The job that you got that we offered you and you accepted, did we fulfill that? In other words, did we present everything accurately? And over several years of asking that we’ve gotten really good where there aren’t any surprises, but then that first work from home, hire from home, work from home group happened and we realized we still had to make a couple of tweaks.

And one of the things we realize is, for one, you always have to act on that feedback. If you ask those questions and you get that feedback, you got to act on it, but also, we realize the number one thing for us and our team members is flexibility. And I’ve talked to a number of contact center leaders. And I love doing interviews with folks that are especially … we don’t hire a lot of former contact center team members, but when we do, I love talking to them to find out what their other contact centers were doing. And it’s amazing to me how many of them are either having to go back to the office or they’ve had to go back a couple of times, or they have the same rigid rules as they had before.

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And look, we have rules, we have an attendance policy. We have a simple one-page attendance policy that makes it extremely clear what our rules are, but we also know work for home presents a different challenge. And our people demand flexibility. And we’ve now hired, we’ve been hiring for over a year and a half of just people that are just remote. And we interview for that, so they have to be comfortable even if they’re not experienced, but they have to know that that’s what the environment’s going to be, but also we give them way more flexibility. We’ve staffed up a little bit, so we can approve more PTO. And people say, “We can’t allow anymore PTO,” no, you can. You just won’t because it’s an expense, right? You have to add more people. We’ve staffed up to approve more PTO.

We do anything we can to help somebody cover a shift if there’s a time that’s not possible because we have such wide operating hours and seven days a week, we can try to move people around. We offer that. And we’ve always said since day one, “Look, we’re contact center, we measure everything, but that adherence thing, you cannot keep the same adherence as you did when you were in the office,” because adherence, you don’t have a dog that’s barking or that you don’t have a … We had one of our team members was on a call and he heard a big loud noise. And there was a three-car crash right in front of his home. And so he did the right thing. He threw his headset down and he ran outside and he was the one that called 911.

And he was the one talking to the gentleman in the car that was pinned and just said just talk him through it. “Okay. We hear the ambulance.” And this whole time he was supposed to be logged in, right? Obviously, we thanked him for making the right decision, but also we created an environment where people know that they can step away, right? Our productivity numbers go down. We know that. We staffed for that. And what we’re seeing, at least in Northern California, companies that aren’t doing that are the ones that are losing employees at record numbers.

That’s interesting. And I think that it’s hard. We’re trying to figure out ways to, as we talked about earlier in regard to technology, we’re trying to take away the agent, when you present this really interesting version of adding more agents, and that’s a way that you are really combating attrition is that you’re giving your agents that ability to walk away for a second and the flexibility. I think that’s an interesting way to look at it, even though it costs more money in the end, you’re going to have less attrition, which is going to lead to actually saving some money. You’re not going to have to go through the training time and things like that.

Well, and I don’t want to make it sound like we didn’t have a rough year this year because we did have a rough year, rougher than 2020, but I will say this, I still call a call center every day of my life. I used to say, if there’s not a wedding or a funeral, I’ve called a contact center that day. And I’ve done this for more than 20 years. And I can’t tell you how frustrating it is, and most of these, I’m not calling because of something I need. I just see a random number or think of a company, and I just see if I can contact them. But so many companies still have the greeting that says due to the COVID 19 pandemic, wait times are exceptionally long. And I just called one the other day and I posted about it and I said, “Wait. How is this possible?”

The first thing I’m going to ask is what’s your cycle time to hire new people. And you have to add some wiggle room because it’s been tough to hire, but you have known about this pandemic and what it’s done to your volume for nearly two years now. There’s no excuse. You shouldn’t have a recording on your IVR that says wait times are longer because of the COVID 19, no, because this is not an unknown. And so we’ve never put that on there, even though we had some long hold times and some challenges. We didn’t see those kinds of issues. And it drives me crazy when organizations still have that on their recording.

Yeah. I think something that I always like to think of is that when we first started move moving through the pandemic and we were having agents be in the office or all agents being at home or this hybrid environment was that, really, we couldn’t take the physical environment and try to make it work for the remote environment. We had to wipe the slate clean and think about the remote environment as its own new thing. And I think your organization specifically has done a great job with that. And you didn’t just take the physical environment and turn it into a remote environment. You guys really spun it and tried to think of it in a new way, which I think is amazing.

We’re going to wrap up here, Matt, with some, what I think are really fun questions. I don’t know if our listeners think they’re fun, but what are some resources, podcasts, publications, blogs, things like that, do you regularly reference to stay on top of industry trends, news, you had mentioned a few, I’d like to mention you have your own that’s really good, but you look at on a regular basis to keep it up to date?

Yeah. I am a contact center geek. I am proud of that. And what that means is when I’m not working, I’m always thinking about things through the lens of making my customers experience, that call us, better, and then also my team members, so I live and breathe this stuff and I have for far more than half of my life, but yeah. And so, I read a lot. I participate a lot. I listen to a ton of podcasts, read a lot of blogs, but I will … just some to call out, there’s a group called Executives in the Know, which is a fantastic organization that’s been around for a long time. And just only during the pandemic have I started attending some of their events and interacting with those folks. And it’s a great organization with people all over North America that are running call centers, that have questions, that have insight.

And honestly, I’ve learned a ton of stuff during this pandemic because I never ran a work-from-home team until March 18th, 2020, where since then, we are a hundred percent work from home, so I’ve leaned on a lot of these resources like Executives in the Know, but also, starting quite a few years ago, Twitter has a huge contact center and customer experience community. And contact center and CX Twitter is a ton of fun. Even Jeremy Watkins is doing … he and some others are doing the CX question of the day, #CXQOTD. And they just pose a question every day, and it’s fun to interact with that. And I learn things from those groups every day.

And then, obviously, LinkedIn and then our local organization: the Northern California Contact Center Association. That’s a great resource. And then there’s a ton of podcasts, but recently, or one that I recently learned about was CX Passport, Rick Denton. It’s a CX-themed podcast, but also in the vein of travel. He always throws in some travel stuff in there as well. And those are the top-of-mind lately places that I go and digest content.

That’s great. I love how also maybe some of these things like you said, had emerged from the horrible situation of the pandemic, where you looked for staying on top of new events or new trends has shifted. And Twitter’s one, I think, that I’ve always looked at throughout the years that I see a lot more people moving towards now, which it’s fun and it’s great to scan through those hashtags and look at all the outstanding conversations that are going on and to get involved. And you and I had talked about this in a previous conversation, but the remote atmosphere being behind the computer has leveled the playing field for some of us who perhaps would not have participated or put our two cents in an environment that’s in person. And in the digital platform, we’re hearing a lot more voices that perhaps we wouldn’t have heard, so it’s very unique.

Yeah, totally agree.

Yeah. You mentioned a few standout leaders in the industry that you follow, Jeremy being one of them. Are there as you’d like to add to that list?

Yeah. I mean, my list of people that I absolutely admire is a mile long. I’ve already mentioned some of them, but there’s a bunch more, but the ones that always come to mind: Nate Brown, the co-founder of the CX Accelerator. Nate is just one of the most amazing people in the field of customer experience. Just to know him and to call him a friend and to have sung karaoke with that man is a thrill of my life, but he is probably the wisest person in our space and one of the best connectors. But also again, I mentioned Jeremy, but Jenny Dempsey is another one that, in my mind, always reminds us customer service is people helping people. And her take on just the human side of, of always focusing on our people to let them focus on our customers, she is such an inspiration.

And then part of our Northern California Contact Center Group, Dr. Debra Bentson, good friend of mine. We’ve been friends for many, many years. She is the absolute pro when it comes to workforce management. I’ve called her many things in my life of knowing her, and usually, it revolves around the fact that I think she must be a cyborg because she’s the only person I’ve ever known in my life that is fundamentally smart and intelligent in workforce management and planning and forecasting and the human side, too. She is the best of both worlds.

And then the last one I’ll add, only discovered them during the pandemic, but the two founders of 5th Talent, which Ted Nardin and Brian Kearney have done an amazing amount of research over the last couple of years, looking into, especially, the work-from-home and bringing the concept of meaningful work to the contact center and really shining a light on the biggest challenge of running a contact center remotely, which is that frontline supervisor. And I don’t think anybody has put together the research, the data, and the people to have this conversation as well as the team from Fifth Talent has.

I like that you mentioned that. I think when I go to look for resources and research, a lot of times it seems like it’s geared more towards a higher-level executive. And I like seeing more information for people who are in the trenches, who are those maybe managers, supervisors, of the actual contact center floor, so I’m so glad you mentioned that. Matt, I’m going to round us out today with a question about advice, which is one that I always like to hear, what career or practical advice do you have for people looking to grow their skills and impact technology used in contact center management?

That’s a great question. The first thing I think of is we try to help facilitate this with the NorCal Contact Center Association, and there are a number of regional associations throughout North America that do pretty much the same thing, but you’ve got to get together with contact center leaders in other industries and also just leaders in other roles within organizations, but whatever your particular vertical is, you’ve got to move outside of that because this concept of liquid expectations where customers are not just comparing pest control to pest control, they’re comparing pest control to their Uber, and they’re comparing their phone company to social media or whatnot, but everybody’s compared against everything. When they see something, they like, they want to port that over to anybody they do business with.

And for me, it’s been super helpful through the years of getting to know people in other industries because what may work for me, because look, on my sales team, we want the phone to ring, so it’s a good thing. We put a lot of money and energy into making sure we know when the phone’s going to ring and from what part of the state and what type of customer but learning from other companies in other industries that are completely different than yours has helped me, and as I’ve seen, always help leaders round out their understanding of the customer. And that’s the first thing. And then the second thing I would say, and you and your organization did not pay me to say this, that’s my disclaimer, but talk to salespeople, talk to salespeople, talk to salespeople.

When you have an SDR call you on the phone randomly, talk to them. Now, I say that and I don’t talk to all of them because I get a ton of sales calls and emails every day, but I also block a couple of times during the week where I’m going to talk to people that have a solution. And these are people that their job is to sell me, and very rarely do I buy, but even in this role, I’ve deployed a couple of technologies that started off as a cold call from an SDR to me.

But that’s not the reason. The reason is that’s how you know what’s in the industry. If you just keep your head down and just maintain your team, and even if you’re talking to external leaders, if you’re not talking to salespeople or getting and letting them get in front of you every so often, you’re not going to know what’s the next thing that might help unify your desktop or might make your employees lives easier or things like that. Talk to salespeople. That’s my last bit of advice.

I think that’s great advice for any leader, for people in marketing, for people in sales, for people, anywhere that you get on the phone. I know I have a tendency to not do that. And after this podcast, well shoot, I’m going to talk to some other people selling us some stuff and get their advice because I think that’s such a valuable piece of information and advice that you’ve given, Matt. That rounds out our podcast today. Matt, thank you so much for joining us. And I look forward to hearing more from you, the Contact Center Geek blog, and anywhere else that you are talking in the industry as it’s always so valuable.

Thank you, Hailey, appreciate that.

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